What and When are the First and Second resurrections in the Bible?

There are various beliefs about the two biblical resurrections mentioned in the bible based on what other doctrines the Christian believes. E.g. Pre-Tribulation or Post-Tribulation. About when they happen, who is involved in each one and why they happen.

Even in Paul’s day the Greeks mocked him for his speech in Acts 17 in which he proclaimed the resurrection of the dead. This concept was contrary to the Platonic idea of the immortality of the soul and they did not believe in resurrection and did not see the point. The Corinthian Church did not understand the resurrection and he had to explain why it was a key cornerstone of the Gospel. This post covers that, Greek Christians Did Not Understand the Resurrection – 1 Corinthians 15

Even today there is a focus on going to heaven as an immortal soul and very little is taught on our resurrection when Jesus comes back and we live in the Millennium with him.

Defining the Two Resurrections

Daniel 12:2 summarizes the two very different fates facing mankind: “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Everyone will be raised from the dead, but not everyone will share the same destiny. The New Testament reveals the further detail of separate resurrections for the just and the unjust.

Revelation 20:4-6 mentions a “first resurrection” and identifies those involved as “blessed and holy.”

The second death (the lake of fire, Revelation 20:14) has no power over these individuals. The first resurrection, then, is the raising of all believers when Jesus comes back. It corresponds with Jesus’ teaching of the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14) and the “resurrection of life” (John 5:29).

John 5:28-29 Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice

29 and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

Notice that John does not say that they come from heaven or from hell. They come out of the graves (sheol).

The first resurrection takes place at the end of the Tribulation as part of the Day of the Lord as Jesus comes back to rule from Jerusalem. Christians who believe in the pre-tribulation rapture believe that the first resurrection takes place in various stages, starting with the rapture before the tribulation (70th Week) starts. However, this is not specifically taught anywhere. Please see The First Resurrection in Revelation 20 for more information.

Paul answering the Thessalonians Question about the Resurrection of the dead

This post can read for a more detailed study of this question in this post, When is the Resurrection from the Dead? It shows that 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 is based on the Olivet Discourse.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Verse 14 they are asleep (dead).

Verse 15 Paul only covers one coming of Jesus and the asleep are resurrected before the people that are alive.

Verse 16 the Lord will descend from heaven with a shout with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God. This comes across that the whole world will know that Jesus has come back. It is not a silent affair as the pretribulationists believe which adds weight to the rapture being at the end of the tribulation. Paul makes no attempt to add any further clarification for the Thessalonian church on this important event. They were concerned that they had missed the resurrection so they needed clarity which if the first resurrection is in at least 2 parts is not mentioned at all.

Verse 17 we who alive when Jesus comes back will meet Jesus in the clouds and we shall always be with him. No mention of the rapture being before or after the tribulation which Paul does cover in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-7 Does the “Falling Away” & the Revelation of “Man of Sin” come First?

Jesus Christ Himself (the “first fruits,”1 Corinthians 15:20), paved the way for the resurrection of all who believe in Him. There will be the resurrection of “the dead in Christ” including Old Testament saints who will be raised at the Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Revelation 20:4).

Second Resurrection

Revelation 20:1115 Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them.

12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.

13 And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire;

15 and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:11-15 identifies those comprising the second resurrection which is implied but not stated by John. John just states that “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened.” Revelation 20:12. For this to happen the wicked had to have been resurrected. This second resurrection is covered in a number of other scriptures.

So the wicked are judged by God at the great white throne judgment prior to being cast into the lake of fire. The second resurrection, then is the raising of all unbelievers from the beginning of time and through the Millennium. Including Millennial saints who have been saved and their names put in the Book of Life which is opened as we see above seemingly for this set of people.

The second resurrection is connected to the second death for unbelievers. It corresponds with Jesus’ teaching of the “resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29).

The event which divides the first and second resurrections is the millennial kingdom. The last of the righteous (tribulation saints who had been martyred) are raised to reign “with Christ a thousand years” (Revelation 20:4), but the “rest of the dead [that is, the wicked] lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Revelation 20:5).

Old Testament Knowledge of a Resurrection

That there would be a resurrection from the dead was known by the Jews as seen in the Old Testament. Job is likely the oldest book in the Bible, and Job said that even though his flesh was destroyed in the grave, in his flesh he would see God (Job 19:25-27). Isaiah 26:19 says the earth will give birth to the dead. Ezekiel 37:12-14 is very clear about the resurrection. Daniel 12:2 and 12:13 both speak of the resurrection, as does Hosea 13:14 (cp. also Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalm 71:20; Isaiah 66:14).

Issues with the resurrections if people believe that when we die we go to Heaven or Hell

The common Christian teaching that when people die they go immediately to heaven or “hell” has blurred and basically nullified the biblical teaching of the resurrections and a future Judgement Day.

Why would there be a resurrection and judgement if everyone is either in heaven or hell and thus everyone has already been judged? Theologians answer that question by saying that people are reunited with their bodies at that time, but the Bible never says that.

However there are serious problems with that answer:-

1. Why would a person who has existed (lived) in an “spirit” form for hundreds or even thousands of years now need a body?

2. The Bible never speaks of people who have died as being some kind of ghost until the resurrection occurs in the future.

3. The Bible never speaks of people being reunited with their bodies.

4. The Bible never speaks of only “bodies” being raised from the dead; it always speaks of “people” being raised (cp. Job. 19:25-27; Psalm 71:20; Isaiah 26:19; 66:14; Ezekiel 37:12-14; Daniel 12:2; Hosea 13:14; Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31; 14:14; John 5:28-29; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22, 42-49, 52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 20:4-15). A “person” is a living body, not just dead flesh.

5. The Bible never states that people are judged when they die. It always speaks of a future day of judgment. For example, the Queen of Sheba (referred to as the “Queen of the South”) had been dead for nearly 1,000 years when Jesus lived, but he spoke of her as getting up from the dead and being judged in the future, not as a past event (Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31).

6. The bible never says that people who have died are in their “spirit” form but somehow still waiting for their judgment. The correct biblical teaching is that when people die they are dead and awaiting being raised from the dead, at which time they will be judged. They are in Sheol.


The resurrection is of dead “people” and not just bodies. So they cannot be in Heaven or Hell. This is born out by the conundrum of why are the dead going to be judged twice. If they are already in heaven or hell they would have been judged when they died and then gone to heaven or hell. This is contradicted by Revelation 20:12-14 in which it says the dead or judged then and not when they died.

The first resurrection is after the tribulation as part of the day of the Lord. First, the dead in Christ rise followed by the tribulation saints to meet Him in the clouds on His way back to earth. 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17

The second resurrection is after the Millennial Kingdom (1,000 year reign of Jesus starting when He comes back) and consists of the unbelievers and millennial saints. Unbelievers are judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:11-15

What great rejoicing will attend the first resurrection! What great anguish at the second!

What a responsibility we have to share the Gospel!

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